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VANOC outlines plan to protect Olympic brand

Athens 2004 debriefing holds lessons for 2010 Games organizers



The 2010 Vancouver Organizing Committee has taken some flak in recent weeks for coming down hard on businesses, which use the symbols of the Olympic Games without permission.

But it must be done, said John Furlong, CEO of VANOC, or the organization may find itself short of money as it heads into the final stretch of hosting the Games. After all sponsors would see little value in supporting the Games if anyone can use the name, brand and symbols of the event, he said.

This week VANOC unveiled a plan they hope will satisfy businesses using the Olympic copyrighted brand and the organization’s commitment to the International Olympic Committee. Any business which began using the word "Olympic" in their names before January 1998 will not be asked to change their name or marks as long as they do not suggest a connection with the Olympic Movement or the 2010 Winter Games.

However, VANOC will require that those business not use symbols that clearly suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement or the 2010 Games, such as the Olympic Rings, the Olympic Torch, the Olympic Motto or emblems relating to the 2010 Winter Games.

They also cannot use the brand in any new business they might start in a new location or in new ways. Anyone who started a business using the Olympic brand after January 1998 is out of luck and must stop.

However, said Furlong each situation will be looked at on a case by case basis.

Furlong also pointed to the marketing troubles now facing Torino, host of the 2006 Winter Olympics, which is over $250 million short in its operations budget after failing to get the state sponsorship deals it hoped to. He said Vancouver does not want to find itself in that position because it allowed the Olympic brand to be cheapened by unauthorized use. If that happened it would be unlikely sponsors would be lining up to write cheques for the 2010 Games.

Torino is also facing higher than predicted spending on some items in its budget.

"Their problem is an interesting one," said Furlong. "I am a little bit concerned that part of why they have a problem is in the very area we have been talking about… marketing and the ability to sell the Games and build sponsorship."

Furlong said the Torino organizers now have a rough ride ahead of them in raising the money as any new sponsors signing on will only get exposure for a few years not the close to six years many marketing partners are looking for.

But in an interview last week with Pique Newsmagazine Torino spokesman Giuseppe Gattino, said: "We believe we will have a solution before the end of the year."

Part of that solution, he said, was the possibility of a national lottery to help raise funds.

"The government is talking about and thinking about organizing a lottery for financing the Games and to push some companies to become sponsors," said Gattino.

The Torino organizing committee (TOROC) is also hoping to get deals in place with state-run companies to help shore up the budget shortfall.

"This situation is of course a difficult one but as we still have 15 months in front of us and we have confidence it can be solved," said Gattino. "The national government, local and a national institutions, and TOROC are all working to find a solution to reduce expenses and to find new funds so the issue in general terms is under control."

However, the Italian government was so concerned about the budget shortfall it appointed its own supervisor, cultural ministry undersecretary Mario Pescante. That created it’s own crisis and TOROC chief Valentino Castellani then threatened to resign over the appointment, believing it showed a lack of confidence in his leadership.

On Tuesday this week, however, Castellani, withdrew his threat to resign later this month, saying he had reached an understanding that would allow him to stay on as head of TOROC.

Gattino said the shortage of funds will not affect the completion of the venues nor will it mean an increase in taxes for Italians.

"It is not a problem of not making some events or other things like that," he said. "This is not the money needed for building the venues, it is needed for organizing the Games.

"But there will be no new taxes on a local or national basis to finance the Winter Games, absolutely not."

The Torino venues are almost complete with most test events set to take place between January and March 2005. Bobsled and luge events will take place in January and the European Championships in short track skating and figure skating will also be held that month. Hockey and speed skating test events are set to take place in the fall of 2005.

The real challenge facing the country at the moment is getting the people excited about the Games, which will run Feb. 10 to 26, 2006. Most people are avid fans of soccer, said Gattino, with only those who live close to the mountains or in and around Torino voicing their enthusiasm for the event.

TOROC is hoping the torch relay, which starts across the country in December, will get the country behind the Games.

Meanwhile both organizers of the Torino Games and Vancouver’s Games have just returned from a debriefing on the Athens 2004 Summer Games in Beijing. At the meetings the Athens Organizing Committee shared key lessons they took from their experiences.

The first was to have a compelling key message – for Athens it was bringing the Games home to the original host. The lesson must be embraced by every level of the organization and every institution involved in the Games, said Furlong.

"They also felt strongly about not forgetting, as you have heard us say before, that (the Games) are first and foremost a sporting event for the athlete and that has to be the priority," said Furlong.

Another key lesson was to stay in regular contact with all the international sport federations who have an enormous stake in the success of the Games. The Athens organizers also talked about the importance of planning flexibility.

"They reminded us that things change all the time and that if you think they won’t then you are in for a surprise," said Furlong. "So no matter how focused you are and how well you think things are going to go they are going to change, so you have to build in planing flexibility as you go along and create an organizations that is fluid and can adjust easily.

"They also made a very strong point about planning very aggressively against the time line and not letting days go by and not accepting delays at all and trying to stay right out in front of the project and really monitor your progress and not get lazy in that regard."